International Rescue Committee (IRC)

Girl power in Nairobi

More than 2,000 girls between the ages of 16 and 19 from some of Kenya’s poorest communities are benefiting from the International Rescue Committee’s Girls Empowered by Microfranchise program, better known as GEM. This successful and innovative project helps teenage girls escape the cycle of poverty by helping them to partner with established companies with the goal of creating their own small businesses. Today, on the International Day of the Girl Child, the IRC is calling for more funds to support similar initiatives.

Recently, I stopped by to visit Susan Kayongo, who trained under the GEM program and now operates a small salon in Nairobi with the support of her franchiser, Darling Hair Products.

Since I last saw Susan, several months ago, she moved her salon to smaller premises in a busier neighborhood, giving her access to more clients. “I have friends nearby and neighbors who are my clients and they tell others about my salon,” she says. That the rent is much cheaper is an added bonus. “In the last place, it was 3,000 shillings [about $35] a month,” she says. “Here it is 1,300 [about $15], so we are saving money.”

Susan works alongside two partners, Mariam, age 20, and Diana, 18. The young women bring complementary beauty skills to the shop: Mariam does hair weaves, manicures and pedicures; Diana does the blow-drying; and Susan does most of the braiding.

Her regular clients come twice a month. “We are also barbers,” Susan notes. “We do men and boys.” The trio have about 20 regular clients, and Susan is confident that number will grow quickly as more people hear about the salon and see first-hand their good work. Susan is also keen to start selling beauty products such as hair extensions, creams and lotions. “Our dream is to have a salon in the city center,” she says. “We are saving towards that.”

More Photos

Susan with her colleagues Mariam and Diana at their salon

Susan with her colleagues Mariam and Diana. Susan is the salon's braiding expert. 

Some of Susan's young clients wait outside her hair salon in Nairobi

Some of Susan's youngest clients wait outside the salon to have their hair done.

A GEM participant learns to braid hair at the Darling Academy in Nairobi

A GEM participant learns braiding techniques at the Nairobi training academy run by Darling Hair Products.

Photos by Sophia Jones-Mwangi/IRC


What's New

Read a December 2013 update on Susan and the salon. 

To Help

On the ground in some of the world’s most troubled places, the IRC helps people at their moment of greatest need — providing shelter, medical care, and safety. And we stay for as long as we are able to help in the rebuilding of lives and livelihoods. Donate now.>>

No comments yet.